Twenty-six months ago, I became commander of an elite company. The 7th Engineer Brigade was leaving me alone as far as levies for Vietnam among my enlisted men. I had the only company of it's type in Europe, and it was only one of four in the whole Army. We were different, we were unique, we were proud, we were good, and we knew it. Then attrition began to hit. My three good warrant officers all left last summer (67). Many of my good NCOs became warrants, and that was OK. But, we had to take some of McNamara's 400,000; the under-achievers who would not normally be drafted. I had to take two of them!
The first, we had boarded out of the Army. The day after the last IG inspection. What a hoot! Since we had to keep him until his port call, I decided he would stand the barracks inspection just like the rest of the company. The men in his room reported he wouldn't help spruce up, "...that if Captain St. Clair really wanted me to clean up my little corner, he would tell me himself!" Damn rights, I told him. And I wasn't very nice; and I know deep down inside that the rest of the platoon did most of the work.
Comes the day of inspection, and it is going well. We have one of those little banty rooster type guys as the IG. (Did you ever notice how these types can ask the damnedest questions? How they seem to have a favorite topic, that the must have to go to IG school to learn how to ask?) This guy is pushing the Army Education Center, and good dental care!
guy of mine, is a big hulk; the type that could pick up a
typewriter and fling it clean across the quad, and the rest of the troops are a little leery of him. Not a bad man, but obviously not suited for the Army, and the board agreed. So, banty rooster colonel is standing in front of him, and the conversation goes something like this:
My Guy: "No!"
Banty Rooster Colonel: "Why?"
My Guy: "Captain St. Clair won't let me!"
Banty Rooster Colonel: "Hmm! Have you been to the Army Education Center to further your education?"
My Guy: "Captain St. Clair won't let me!"
Banty Rooster Colonel: "Hmm! Soldier, what do you think of the Army?"
My Guy: "Sir, the Fucking Army SUCKS!"
Banty Rooster Colonel: (chuckles) "Don't worry about it."
Well, that's the guy we got rid of. This one being courts martialed was a hood from New York, and loved knives. He was a cook, and one day went berserk in the mess hall, throwing whole pies on trays, and dumping large ladle's of mashed potatoes on trays, and grabbing knives and daring anyone to fuck with him. That happened at the noon meal, and my first sergeant (6"5") and I hid in the pantry to observe him at the supper meal. Same thing, and grabbing my company clerk, also 6" 5", we took him to the psycho ward at Landstuhl, and were told we would never see him again. Next day we had to pick him up because he hadn't hurt anyone yet, and they wouldn't keep him. Well, we had already started the paper work on getting him out, too, and I had in bedded down in my office at night, with two CQ's on, with a billy club on their desk in the orderly room. Despite that, he got away, and assaulted some poor prostitute in Skank Town, and cut her finger with a knife. So off to the brig, and the courts martial. (Come to think of it, maybe it was a General Courts Martial instead of a Special. Mox Nix)
So, there I am, stuck at Kleber Kaserne, the day before going to Nam. And I am pissed. And, I don't really remember why I was there, except I had to be because I was the company commander of record. [The guy was found guilty, sentenced to Leavenworth. Four years later, his platoon sergeant, then a warrant officer, told me in Baumholder that he had gone back to New York, got involved in another assault, and was sentenced to Sing Sing; where he was murdered!] Don't talk to me about McNamara's 400,000!
evening at home was a blur! I don't remember much about it, except
that midnight came all to fast. One of the things that bothered me
was that Liliane was Stateless, and had no passport. Stateless because
she was born in Romania, and her family didn't want to go back to Bucharest
to live under Communism! She didn't have U. S. Citizenship because
she hadn't been in the States more than about 21 months, and didn't meet
the resident requirements. She did, however, have your green card,
and some type of official document from the state department, or immigration,
allowing her to go back overseas since I was on orders, first to Korea,
then Germany, and now Vietnam. And Donnie, had U. S. Citizenship,
and his proof of being an American Citizen born abroad while his dad was
on government orders. But, I was worried about what would happen to my
family if I didn't come back. Would Liliane get back to the
she want to, or would the kids become German! [Don't forget, you
learned two days ago that she was newly pregnant!]
And, in the back of my mind was, "You don't have to go!" That's right, I didn't have to go! The Army had a policy at that time that certain of us could request discharge, or retirement in lieu of going to Vietnam. My original First Sergeant did just that. He got his orders, and put in his retirement papers the very same day! One of my warrant officers (the two had served together several years) told him he was Chicken, but took me aside before he left and said he was doing the right thing.
But, I didn't have to go! I was coming up on 10 years' service, and had been passed over a couple of times for promotion. I didn't have to go! But, I was stubborn, thinking if I went to Nam, I was sure to get that elusive promotion. [Several years later I was told that being the only engineer captain company commander, even though I was in an approved slot, and the only one authorized and stabilized in Europe, hurt me because all the other engineer company commanders were mere lieutenants, which meant, obviously, something was wrong! Well, something certainly was wrong, it was the damn system that was wrong, but I didn't know then how to fix it. (Truth - I still don't know how to fix it!)]